With the basic specification of the new Leica SL2 and purported photographs having been leaked, we now have a fair idea of what the new camera will look like. Here I’ve polished the old crystal ball and have tried to envisage developments in the near future
Now we’ve seen pictures of the Leica SL 2 (or, at least, pimages of what is supposed to be the new camera) I am feeling a lot warmer towards it. Incidentally, as noted yesterday on Leica Rumors, Leica France has rather carelessly leaked more pictures of the SL2 on Instagram. Wetzlar’ a marketing department is unlikely to be ecstatic about this.
The Bauhaus lines of the original, with its sharp corners and a grip as ramrod straight as a Grenadier guardsman’s spine — a grip designed to fit the concepts of the designer rather than the contours of the human hand — didn’t do much for me.
But while they appear to have been softened a little, the new lines still look decidedly less finger-friendly than those of the Lumix S1.
Panasonic’s S1 and S1R models are definitely more cuddly and designed for humans than the old SL.
Expected in the last part of the year (I think it is probably too late to see it this month, so my bet would be on an early November launch), the SL2 will certainly have a 47MP sensor. It will be a tad sleeker than its predecessor and will feature the now standard Leica control layout, with the three buttons to the left of the screen, as seen on the CL and Q2.
As yet, we have no steer on the presence of in-body optical image stabilisation. We are hoping that the SL2 will lean heavily on the Panasonic S1R in this respect and I would be mightily surprised if stabilisation isn’t in the mix.
I would also be astonished if the SL2 doesn’t adopt the 5.76MP electronic viewfinder of the Panasonic S1R.
There is clearly a great deal of cooperation between the two companies — although for competition reasons they have to preserve a certain cordon sanitaire — and that’s no bad thing. Panasonic has the experience on the electronics side, especially in in-body optical stabilisation which will be a new departure for Leica. They would be mad not to feed off one another.
SL to soldier on?
But there are still some uncertainties. Steve Huff makes a call which will be echoed by many SL enthusiasts — for the retention of the current SL with its 24MP sensor as a tandem offering.
There is no doubt that some owners are reluctant to move to the larger sensors because of the speed and storage implications. There’s also the fact that the denser sensors do not perform quite as well in low light as their 24MP predecessors (at the moment, but this will change). For confirmation of this, you have to ask why Sony chose a 12MP sensor for the original light-gobbling a7s. The larger pixels were better in low-light and for dynamic range.
The Q2 has been around for nine months and I know that many Q owners have been reluctant to upgrade for this reason. They are happy with what they’ve got and found the 24MP sensor to be an all-round good egg, an acceptable compromise between image quality and practicality. That said, there is evidence that reluctance is disappearing. There are more and more used Q cameras on the market, some for as little as £2,000, and this is sure evidence of upgrading gathering pace.
I’m happy to add my voice to Steve’s for continued production of the SL. Even better, it could be a good move to retain the 24MP sensor as a cheaper offering but to give it the body and other technical enhancements we expect in the SL2. Let’s call it the SL 1.1.
Incidentally, the designation SL2 is only an assumption, a sort of working-rumour title. It could be called something else, or simply the continuity SL. But the established use of Q2 provides a good clue that it is a logical guess. I think that after the debacle of the M240 (Typ Wotsitsname) they’ve learned a useful lesson in clarity of nomenclature.
Sadly, I fear, we are all going to be disappointed.
Leica could have continued the Q (or Q-P, preferably) alongside the Q2 but decided against it. The same is almost certain to happen with the SL. One likely suspect is manufacturing capacity; it could simply have been impossible to continue with the older model of the Q. Leica presumably doesn’t have the economy of scale enjoyed by, say, Panasonic. That company now has three S1 models serving different sectors of the market, all with the same body. I think Leica will stay well out of this segmented market.
I feel certain that the SL with its 24MP sensor is now dead. No more are being made and the heavy discounting of earlier this year has cleared out stocks of new bodies. While there was a glut of second-hand SL bodies around the time of the price reductions, these now seem to have dried up and second-hand prices have risen a little. This tells us that demand is still there and I suspect the original SL will still have a charmed life on the used market for some years to come, especially now that it is comparable in price with a new Panasonic S1.
The good news is that the arrival of the SL2 will lead to a relative glut of used SLs and wil herald, at least temporarily, a bargain-hunter’s paradise.
Leica has moved on and all its future full-frame digital designs are likely to have sensors with more than 40-million pixels.
What’s brewing on the M front?
The move to denser sensors will also impact the rangefinder M family in the near future. While we are some time away from an M11 — I would guess sometime in late 2021 or early 2022 — there has been persistent chatter of an interim M10 model with a larger sensor. There could be something in this because it would provide a useful testbed for the M11 when it arrives.
Contrary to some suggestions, however, this sensor is unlikely to be the 47MP chip from the Q2 and SL2. The rangefinder has different requirements in sensor design. It is far more likely to be a sensor in the early 40s and rather than the 47.3MP sensor of the SL2.
M for Mirrorless?
Rumours are also buzzing around about the possibility of a smaller mirrorless system camera based on the M mount. But this doesn’t seem sensible from a commercial point of view. The M mount is likely to remain the preserve of the rangefinder. I imagine that if we do see such a beast it will feature the new L-mount to give it wider acceptance and allow the the use of autofocus as well as manual lenses. We could think of it as a Q with L-mount.
One of the biggest challenges in designing such a camera, however, is heat dissipation, especially if they want to shoehorn in a 40+MP sensor. A Panasonic technician involved in the design of the S1R told me last year that heat had been one of the biggest problems facing the engineers, despite the relatively huge size of the body. On the other hand, Leica (possibly aided by Panasonic) managed the trick with the Q2, so there is hope.
Smaller bodies dissipate heat more slowly, thus raising the
However, as we’ve discussed, not everyone welcomes larger sensors. Some believe that 24MP represents a sort of plateau — a standard that is good enough without the need for added complication and slower processing. While it is currently a strongly held feeling — hence Panasonic’s pandering to both ends of the spectrum — it is likely to be only a temporary phenomenon.
We will undoubtedly soon get used to 47MP, by which time the early adopters will have moved on towards 100MP. Improved processor speeds, better heat management and enhanced low-light performance will all contrive to make the larger sensor fully competitive. And by that time we’ll be looking back nostalgically to the “more-than-adequate” 24 megapixels.
If we have learned anything from consumer computer technology over the past 40 years, it is that storage and speed (not to mention the size of software packages) expand to meet requirements. They just bring a few growing pains along the way.
The next three months will produce a number of new launches in the L-Mount world and, I suspect, just a few surprises. But I think we will have to wait until late 2021 before we get wind of the M11.